Taiwan premiere of The Cove

The 2010 Urban Nomad Film Festival (城市遊牧影展) began on Friday night with the Taiwan premiere of The Cove at the Armed Forces Cultural Centre in Taipei. The Cove won the 2010 Academy Award for best documentary and the premiere was ahead of the documentary’s general release in Taiwan on 7 May.

The night began with a screening of Taiwan’s Critically Endangered Dolphins, a short documentary produced by Christina MacFarquhar of the Wild at Heart Foundation. This detailed the work of activists to save Taiwan’s endangered population of humpback dolphins that live in the waters off Changhua and Yunlin counties. The efforts of activists to bring attention to the dolphin’s plight were shown to be continually frustrated by industry and government. Following this there were speeches by Chen Bin-heng of the Mazu Fish Conservation Union (台灣媽祖魚保育聯盟) and Canadian musician Matthew Lien.

The Cove shows the work of a group of activists led by Ric O’Barry to expose the annual dolphin slaughter at Taiji in Japan. The documentary avoids falling into the trap of anthropomorphising the dolphins and shows them as unique and intelligent creatures on their own terms. It was Ric O’Barry’s own experience as a dolphin trainer that led him to discover how much the dolphins suffer in captivity. This led him to become an activist working to free captive dolphins around the world.

In Taiji the government, police and fishermen all work to keep the dolphin slaughter a secret. The film exposes this multi-level conspiracy that stretches all the way to the International Whaling Commission. In addition to the dolphin slaughter the high levels of mercury in the dolphin meat are also exposed. The Cove is a powerful film and will certainly have major impacts in Japan and on dolphin conservation around the world. There are also some parallels between the efforts of government and industry to continue the dolphin slaughter in Japan and Taiwan where government and industry’s pursuit of industrial development depends on denying the possible effects of that development on the humpback dolphin population.

Urban Nomad, which began in 2002, has utilised a range of venues around Taipei, but Friday night was the first time it had held a screening in a proper theatre. This reflects the growth of the film festival which is Taiwan’s largest independent film festival and an important outlet for short films and a range of documentaries that would otherwise go unseen in Taiwan. There is also an awards section for short films in cooperation with the Taiwan Original Filmmakers Union (電影創作聯盟).

The film festival continues all week with screenings at the Taipei Artist Village (台北國際藝術村) and Warehouse E3 at Huashan Arts Park (華山創意園區). There is a strong theme of environmental and human rights issues in the documentaries selected for the festival. Tonight (Sunday 2 May) the theme of ocean-based conservation continues with Sharkwater, a documentary about the global trade in shark fins. The closing night next Saturday 8 May at Huashan includes Bullshit, a documentary profiling Indian activist Vandana Shiva and The Shock Doctrine, a documentary based on Naomi Klein’s book of the same name.

Check www.urbannomad.tw for full details of all events.